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Nikon D7100 shoots for sharper shots

Implementation will be everything for the D7100 to be able to compete in a very different market than its predecessor faced. Can dropping the antialiasing filter on the sensor, weather-sealing the body, and improving performance and AF to keep it current do the job?

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Lori Grunin
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Lori Grunin

Senior Editor / Advice

I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.

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On the surface, the long-overdue update to the Nikon D7000 doesn't look like a huge advance, but its replacement, the D7100, seems to have several subtle -- and a few not-so-subtle -- enhancements that have the potential to make it a compelling option in an increasingly competitive crowd. Where once the company had to worry only about Canon with respect to advanced amateur SLRs, Pentax and Sony now produce some killer cameras, sturdily built and capable of shooting great photos with great speed.

Most interesting: though it has the same resolution as the D5200, the D7100 uses a new and different sensor that lacks an optical low-pass filter (OLPF), aka an antialiasing filter, much like the Pentax K-5 IIs. Dropping the filter is intended to increase the sharpness of the native images without introducing the types of artifacts you get when sharpening in post. The trade-off tends to be increased moiré, which the camera can usually address adequately for stills but less so for video. Unlike Pentax, which offers a more traditional OLPF version, Nikon's putting all its pixels in one basket and offering just the one model -- for now, at least. (Not a clue what I'm talking about? Try reading this primer.)

The sensor has improved readout speed over the D7000, which Nikon attributes to a more efficient design rather than more output channels, and improved noise reduction in part because of an upgrade to the current Expeed 3 image-processing engine.

Nikon D7100's updated design (pictures)

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Increased sharpness is the goal with the viewfinder and LCD as well. The optical aspects of the viewfinder are effectively the same, but the readout now uses an OLED display for higher-contrast text. The LCD's not articulated, but larger and much higher-resolution.

Two notable improvements that Nikon claims to have made to the autofocus system include center-point sensitivity up to f8 and faster (compared with f5.6 for the D7000), a big deal for serious telephoto shooters, and improvements to the contrast (Live View) autofocus to ameliorate that annoying pulsing that appears when focused on a stationary subject during movie shooting.

The company has also added an intriguing spot-white-balance feature, available only in Live View mode. It sounds nice, but it'd be great if it could act like an eyedropper instead, sort of a quickie way to pick a color temperature to calibrate against. Other tweaked features include a two-shot, tripod-free automatic HDR and expanding the exposure bracketing to up to five shots +/- 3 EV.

While I'm not a big crop mode user, Nikon's introducing a 1.3x crop mode for an effective 2x crop factor (Nikon's math, not mine), producing a 15.4-megapixel image. In that mode, continuous-shooting speed rises to about 7 frames per second and you gain a 1080/60i/50i movie mode.

Here are some of the models the D7100 has to contend with:

  Canon EOS 7D Nikon D5200 Nikon D7000 Nikon D7100 Pentax K-5 II/IIs Sony Alpha SLT-A77V
Sensor effective resolution 18MP hybrid CMOS
14 bits
24.1MP CMOS
14 bits
16.2MP CMOS
14 bits
24.1MP CMOS
14 bits
16.3MP CMOS
14 bits
24.3MP Exmor HD CMOS
n/a
22.3mm x 14.9mm 23.5mm x 15.6mm 23.6mm x 15.6mm 23.5mm x 15.6mm 23.7mm x 15.7mm 23.5mm x 15.6mm
Focal-length multiplier 1.6x 1.5x 1.5x 1.5x 1.5x 1.5x
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 6400 ISO 100 - ISO 6400/25600 (exp) ISO 100 (exp)/
200 - ISO 3200/6400 (exp)
ISO 100 - ISO 6400/25600 (exp) ISO 80 (exp)/
100 - ISO 12,800/
51,200 (exp)
ISO 50 (exp)/ 100 - ISO 16000
Burst shooting 7fps
25 raw/130 JPEG
5fps
n/a
6fps
n/a
6fps
(7fps in 1.3x crop mode)
n/a
7fps
8 raw/30 JPEG
8fps
(12fps with fixed exposure)
13 raw/ 14 JPEG
Viewfinder (mag/ effective mag) 100% coverage
1.0x/0.63x
Optical
100% coverage
0.78x/0.52x
Optical
100%
coverage
0.95x/0.63x
Optical
100%
coverage
0.94x/0.63x
Optical
100% coverage
0.92x/0.61x
Electronic OLED
0.5 inch/2.36 million dots
100% coverage
1.09x/0.73x
Autofocus 19-pt phase-detection AF all cross-type; center cross to f2.8 39-pt phase-detection AF
9 cross-type
(Multi-CAM 4800DX)
39-pt phase-detection AF
9 cross-type
(Multi-CAM 4800DX)
corrected 2/21/13
51-pt phase- detection AF
15 cross-type; center to f8 or faster
(Multi-CAM 3500DX)
11-pt phase-detection AF
9 cross-type
(SAFOX X)
19-pt phase-detection AF
11 cross-type
AF sensitivity -0.5 to 18 EV -1 to 19 EV -1 to 19 EV -2 to 19 EV -3 - 18 EV -1 - 18 EV
Shutter speed 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 x-sync 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 sec x-sync 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/180 sec x-sync 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 x-sync
Shutter durability 150,000 cycles 100,000 cycles 150,000 cycles 150,000 cycles 100,000 cycles 150,000 cycles
Metering 63-zone iFCL 2,016-pixel 3D color matrix metering II 1,005-pixel 3D color matrix metering II 2,016-pixel 3D color matrix metering II 77 segment 1,200 zone
Metering sensitivity 1 to 20 EV 0 to 20 EV 0 to 20 EV 0 to 20 EV 0 to 22 EV -2 - 17 EV
Video H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/30p/ 25p/24p; 720/60p/ 50p 1080/60i/ 50i/30p/ 25p/24p; 720/60p/ 50p H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/24p/ 25p H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/60i/ 50i/30p/ 25p/24p; 720/60p/ 50p H.264 QuickTime MOV
(60i/50i only in 1.3x crop mode)
1080/25p; 720/30p/ 25p Motion JPEG AVI AVCHD 1080/
60p @ 28, 24Mbps, 1080/24p @ 24, 17Mbps, 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1440x1080/ 30p @ 12Mbps
Audio Mono; mic input Stereo; mic input Mono; mic input Stereo; mic input; headphone jack Mono; mic input Stereo; mic input
Manual aperture and shutter in video Yes Yes Yes Yes n/a Yes
Maximum best-quality recording time 4GB/29:59 min 20 min 4GB/20 min 4GB/29:59 min 4GB/25 min 29 min
IS Optical Optical Optical Optical Sensor shift Sensor shift
LCD size 3 inches fixed
920,000 dots
3 inches articulated
921,000 dots
3 inches fixed
921,000 dots
3.2 inches fixed
1,228,800 dots
3 inches fixed
921,000 dots
3 inches articulated
921,600 dots
Memory slots 1 x CF (UDMA 7) 1 x SDXC 2 x SDXC 2 x SDXC 1 x SDXC/ SDHC
(SDXC requires firmware upgrade)
1 x SDXC
Wireless flash Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Battery life (CIPA rating) 800 shots 500 shots 1,050 shots 950 shots 740 shots 470 shots
Size (WHD, inches) 5.8 x 4.4 x 2.9 5.1 x 3.9 x 3.1 5.2 x 4.2 x 3.0 5.3 x 4.2 x 3.0 5.2 x 3.8 x 2.9 5.8 x 4.1 x 3.3
Body operating weight (ounces) 35 19.9 27.3 23.8 (est) 26.1 (est) 25.9
Mfr. price $1,599 (body only) $799.95 (body only) $1,350 (body only) $1,199.95 (body only) $1,095.95/
$1,199.95 (body only)
$1,099.99 (body only)
n/a $899.95 (with 18-55mm VR lens) $1,690 (with 18-105mm lens) $1,599.95 (with 18-105mm lens) $1,249.95 (with 18-55mm WR lens)/n/a $1,699.99 (with 16-50mm lens)
n/a $1,099.95 (with 18-105mm lens) $2,049 (with 18-200mm lens) n/a $1449.95/ n/a (with 18-135mm WR lens) $1,399.99 (with 18-135mm lens)
Release date December 2009 January 2013 October 2010 March 2013 October 2012 October 2011

The WR-1 Wireless Remote Transmitter Nikon

Nikon promises improved performance, a no-brainer after three years. The real questions are whether it will be significantly faster than the D5200 and whether the OLPF-free image quality will be gotta-have-it better. It's also important to note that the 7D is quite old as well and both it and the SLT-A77V are likely to be replaced this year. Plus, Nikon's keeping the D7000 around for an unspecified period -- still a great camera -- so you've got to watch for price drops there.

When the D7000 shipped, Canon and Nikon were pretty much the only games in town for this type of camera, but in the interim, Sony and Pentax have developed formidable options with which Nikon needs to contend.

Nikon also announced a price-and-availability-TBD hot-shoe-based uber remote tranceiver to work in conjunction with the rest of its wireless remote accessories. It operates in the 2.4GHz range up to 394 feet, and you can use another unit to relay beyond that, and can control up to three channel groups of up to 64 cameras each.

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